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February 21, 2024
The Gentlemen's Hatch — Hendricksons

This is an article which appeared in Michigan Trout magazine and was written in May of 2015. It shares the personal reflections of a dear friend, Tudor ApMadoc, who held an annual "Trout Camp" the week of the traditional trout opening day, the last Saturday in April each year in the 70's and 80's. To describe Tudor as expert fly angler would be a terrific understatement. Not only was he the most prolific trout angler I have ever known, he was one of a group of Michigan trout anglers who pioneered what we know today as modern fly angling. His camp gathering was held at Whippoorwill Lodge on the Holy Waters of the AuSable river in Grayling. The section from Stephan's Bridge to Wakely is well known for it's spectacular Hendrickson hatches. Each year his camp would host a dozen or more angling friends who would share their stories, angling exploits, and tales along with bourbon, scotch whiskey, and soda crackers topped with stilton cheese and black current preserves until the wee hours of the night. This article is how Tudor described the first major hatch of the season, the gentlemen's hatch - the Hendricksons.   Dave Leonhard

Learning To Fly Cast


Seven Steps Fly Casting Method

A guide to learning fly casting

by Dave Leonhard

Seven Steps To Learning Fly Casting

Setup. Proper grip and stance.
  1. Pickup and delivery. (Stop and wait. Stop and wait, and deliver.)

Read more »

   May 02, 2022  

Getting Started

How to Choose a Fly Rod
by Dave Leonhard


If you’ve set your sights on a new fly rod, or perhaps your first fly rod, dive in and take a few notes.  High tech materials, fast actions, slow actions, new actions, line weights, rod lengths, tapers, flex indexes, grips, ferrule designs, finishes,... can be overwhelming. Relax. Here are some guidelines to help you choose the right fly-casting tool.


Before you ever set out to the nearest fly shop, ask yourself a question, “What specie of fish do I want to fish for?”  Since fly fishing for different species of fish involves casting flies of various sizes and varying degrees of wind resistance, you should first decide how large (or wind resistant) the flies are that you will need to deliver to catch the fish you are after. That will enable you to determine what line weight would best deliver that type of fly.  The “line weight” is a standardized designation given to each fly line by the American Fly Tackle Manufacturer’s Association based on the weight of its front 30 feet.


Simply, large, heavy flies require more energy to carry them to the target, thus heavier line weights are required. For example, most trout fishing involves using fly sizes that roughly range in size from #20 to #6 (1/4 inch to 1 inch). Yes, we do use larger and smaller flies from time to time, but the bulk of the hatches that we fish for trout and the corresponding flies really fall within that range.) The line weight that most comfortably delivers flies within that range is a five weight. While the larger end of the spectrum is more easily delivered with a six weight, and the smaller end more delicately with a four weight, a five weight covers the largest group of fly sizes best. This is how one must first begin. So, if you already have a five weight and want another trout rod to better match the fly sizes at either end of that spectrum, you may want to go to a line or two lighter or heavier. Or perhaps you want to do more bass and bluegill fishing. Your five weight will deliver many of the flies you will want to have in your box. But, the fly range for largemouth bass may range from #4 to #2/0. Surely an eight weight will deliver the largest most wind resistant flies more easily than your five weight or a new six weight.


There is one obvious exception to this method of determining rod line weight. Large species of fish such as tarpon may take flies that might require only a five weight line to properly deliver them. However, a five weight rod will lack the backbone to fight an 80 or 100 pound fish. One must also consider how substantial the rod must be to fight the specie you are fishing for.


Once you have determined the line weight that best suits your needs, you can set your task upon choosing the right rod that casts that line weight. To choose the right rod one must cast the rod. This is the single most important rule of selecting a rod. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of casting several rods of the same line weight to select the right one for you. The latest technology means nothing if you don’t feel comfortable casting the rod, can form good loops and deliver the line where you want it. Also, price is not a good indicator of the action that you will prefer. Just because a rod is expensive or inexpensive does not mean that it suits you. There are several good rod makers that have a wide variety of rods and rod actions in all price ranges. Good casters can cast a good loop on any rod. However, that does not mean that every action suits their casting preference. They will have a preference and so will you.


Most high quality fly rods today are graphite in composition.  Yet, you can get lost in the volumes of test technology and jargon that manufacturersemploy to market their products. Very simply, there are rods that have very fast actions (i.e. stiff) and very slow actions (i.e. flexible) and every degree of flexibility in between. Only you can determine which suits you best.  Somewhere out there, there is an action that you will find easier to form good loops. This is true for all levels of fly casters.  And, your preference for stiff of flexible rods will change over time as your casting style evolves over the years. Start with the choices in your selected line weight and price range and cast several. You will cast one better than the others.


Rod lengths can vary greatly as well but there are only a few things to consider when determining length. Rod length is not based on one’s height or strength. Although a nine-foot rod allows a five-foot angler to mend as much line as a six-foot angler with an eight-foot rod, rods between 8 and nine feet are well suited to most trout angling situations. So while length may seem like a crucial decision, any rod with the right line weight between eight and nine feet long which suits your casting preferences is probably the rod for you. The most common rod length for Michigan fishing is eight-foot six-inches. The most common rod length for larger western rivers is nine-feet.


The one exception to rod length choice is when one chooses a rod for very specialized, small creeks (rivers that are no wider than a few feet and have heavy brush along their banks) where a rod longer than seven feet is cumbersone. Very specialized rods designed to load up with two to ten feet of fly line that are six to seven feet are considered “small creek” rods. However, they are not recommended for water other than the very smallest, overgrown creeks.


What you need to do is visit your local fly shop and try several rods of the same line weight that have different actions. If the fly shop won’t let you cast the rods before buying one, find another fly shop. Giving them a “shake” at the rack is sometimes a place to begin, but it is never a true test of the action.  Some very fast three weights will feel very flexible compared to a slow action six weight.  To really tell, you must line it up and cast it. Cast short casts, long casts, shoot line, and aim at a variety of targets. The rest is easy. It will be obvious to you once you cast the rods that one action or another is easier to cast good loops with. One of the common mistakes that we all make is to buy a rod based on the recommendation of a friend who may have entirely different skills and tastes in rod action. Try them yourself and you will be happier with your decision.


Two, four, five or even seven pieces is another question to consider.  Today’s technology enables manufacturers to create multi-piece rods that are durable and fine casting tools. Most airlines still allow passengers to carry on rods that are at least four pieces.  So if you are beginning a fly rod collection and your budget will allow, choose a rod that is at least four pieces.


If this is your first rod, here are a few basics that will help you narrow your search. First, rods range in size from one weight to fifteen weight. Trout anglers generally choose five or six weight rods initially. Most fly anglers later add light lines like two or three weights for fishing smaller flies. Salmon are wrestled most easily with an eight or nine weight. Steelhead and bonefish anglers most commonly choose a seven or eight weight. And, big game anglers hunting, large pike, permit, tarpon, or stripers, or even carp on the West Bay or Grand Traverse Bay choose nine or ten weights. Big game species like giant tarpon, sailfish, marlin, muskies, etc. need a ten, eleven or even twelve weight rod to fight them. Other species will require some input from your local fly shop. Most trout rods are between 8 and nine feet long. And, most have a moderate action that is neither very fast or very slow.


Prices for most graphite trout rods range from a low of about $195 to a high of about $1000. And yet the price for most mid-range trout rods ranges from $350 to $500. Technology now enables manufacturers to create very good quality rods at prices that allow for them offer packages of rod, reel, and line at prices around $200. And, all should have a solid warrenty for defect or repair. Most high quality rod manufacturers do.


Remember to trust your own judgment. Choose a line weight that makes sense and then cast several. You’ll easily determine which stick suits your casting style and stroke. Remember too, as your castings skills improve, your taste in rod actions will change as well.


Dave Leonhard is a master casting instructor for Fly Fishers International, a life member of TU, a charter member of the Adams Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Traverse City, Michigan, owner of Streamside Orvis in Traverse City, Michigan, and owner of the Orvis Michigan Fly Fishing School in Traverse City, Michigan. 


Dave Leonhard

Orvis Streamside

Orvis Michigan Fly Fishing School

300 E. Front St., Suite 101

Traverse City, Michigan 49684



Wading Basics
by Dave Leonhard

One of the first purchases a fly angler makes is waders. Waders have come a long way from the heavy, rubberized canvas, lug-sole monsters that we wore in the 60’s and 70’s. Today, modern breathable membranes, lightweight fabrics, and interchangeable soles have made wading much more comfortable. In this article I would like to cover some of the basic choices one can make when purchasing waders, and then discuss some important wading issues that will help you wade more comfortably and safely.

By far, the most popular waders sold today are called “stocking foot”. That refers to the wader having a neoprene, soft, bootless foot that must be worn with a wading shoe that is purchased separately. They are most popular for two reasons. First, they can be made in a wide variety of sizes and shapes for both men and women. From small/short to XXL/extra long, modern stocking foot waders are made in sizes that will fit nearly everyone. Waders that fit properly are more comfortable and will last longer. Also, the wading shoe can be purchased in the correct size. For example, if you wear an extra large short size wader but have a size 8 foot, you can be fit properly. Secondly, because wading shoes will often last much longer than the stocking foot wader, replacing them costs less. This makes stocking foot waders more economical in the long run.

Several manufacturers still offer bootfoot waders, but because they offer only a few body sizes for each foot size they rarely fit as well as stocking foot waders. Consequently, some anglers are unable to find waders that fit properly and are thus less comfortable and get less wear out of them. Bootfoot waders are also much heavier and bulkier than stocking foot waders. That makes them less desirable for travel or long hikes to the river.

Buying waders involves two important issues: budget and fit.  The cost of waders is directly related to the number of features that they boast. Waterproof pockets, padded knees, zip-fronts, drop-down systems, synthetic wool linings… the list goes on and on. However, let your budget determine the list of features you purchase. The most important budget feature that you should consider is the number of layers the wader has. This will directly affect the life of the wader. More expensive waders are usually four layer systems while the more economical stocking foot waders are generally three layers. Bear in mind that fit is a major factor in the durability and longevity of any wader. Waders that are too short in the rise will invariably leak in the crotch sooner rather than later. Also, since breathable stocking foot waders do not stretch, they should have at least a couple of extra inches in the inseam so that one can comfortably do a deep knee bend. This will ensure that one can get out of the stream by stepping up onto the bank. This is the most common cause of seam failure and the most common mistake anglers make when purchasing stocking foot waders. Having extra length in the seam from the crotch to the foot will ensure that the seam on the crotch will not be stretched too much and leak prematurely. Make sure that the waders are roomy enough to allow the breathable layers to breathe and circulate air. Since fit is such a crucial factor for waders to last, work well, and feel comfortable, take the time to try them on and walk in them before purchasing them.

What’s the most common question customers ask regarding waders? “How long will they last?” I have to honestly answer, “If you never wear them, they’ll last forever. And if you wear them every day you’ll be lucky to get three seasons out of them.” Most anglers wear their waders ten or twelve times a year and should get many years out of them. Bear in mind that pinhole leaks are easily repaired in seconds with products like AquaSeal UV and permanent seam failures and leaks are rare unless they are worn over many years, are abused, or fit improperly.

Next consider the soles of your waders. Today, invasive species such as zebra mussels, didymo, mud snails, and other highly damaging species are potentially carried from one watershed to another via wet felt soles, neoprene booties, laces, and other items. To avoid this, one should always fully dry items such as wading shoes, and waders before using them in a different river or lake. But if drying such items is not possible, throw them into a garbage bag and freeze them overnight. Freezing will kill the invasives.

Now that you have your waders, get in and wade. So let’s talk about some basic guidelines that will make your wading safer and drier. First, do not wade in water unless you can swim. “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” Make sure you have your polarized glasses to see how deep it is and if there is a rock waiting to trip you. Consider where you are getting in. Is there a silt bed where you are getting in? How deep is it? When you first get into the river, get organized and acclimated. By that I mean, “manhandle” the river a little. Don’t let the current push you around. Bend your knees and be athletic. You’ll soon feel stable if you resist the current with some effort. Then, as you move downstream or upstream, move your feet slowly by sliding them and “feeling” your way to the next step. Always set your foot solidly before moving the other.

If you are fearful that you might trip and your waders could fill up with water and you might sink to the bottom of the river, relax. Consider this: if your waders are full of water in a pool or in a deep hole, the pressure inside and outside equalizes.  That means that they weigh no more full of water in the river than they do completely empty on dry land. We all think our waders will drag us down because when we get a couple of gallons of water in them (at 8 pounds a gallon) and try to get out onto the bank, they are heavy. To minimize taking on a lot of water if you fall, we recommend wearing a wading belt. Wading belts will prevent a simple fall from becoming a wet, cold, day on the river. (Tip: When you put your wading belt on, kneel down and clip it. This will force air out and make you less buoyant and give you a more solid connection with the river bottom.) Normally when one falls in and gets water in their waders, air is trapped inside and they become buoyant. If you’re in deep water and you’re waders become buoyant and you lose touch with the bottom, arch our back and do the breast stroke to the bank, get out, and feel embarrassed. If you should fall and go down into the water, try not to panic. (Oh yeah, right.) Let’s face it, without exception, we all panic when we go down. However, even in the worst river, it’s unlikely that you will go shooting downstream like Brad Pitt for a half a mile. Rather, you will likely travel downstream about twenty feet and tail out into quiet water where you can stand up and get out to dry things. But that is a generalization. I won’t minimize that there is danger when one is in a fast moving riverthat is deep. Anglers can get tangled in their fly lines, hit their heads on rocks, or get tangled in debris in a river. Yes, accidents happen and we need to be careful.

If you need to cross a river, look ahead. Pick a place to wade across the river and get upstream of it. Then, wade down and across.  Never try to wade directly across the river at a right angle. As you wade downstream the current pressure is reduced and it becomes much easier to get to the other side.

Just make sure that the depth across and downstream is shallow enough. Keep sideways in the current so you don't offer a wider profile to the current. Also, remember that the outside of a bend in the river is the deepest side of the river. The inside of bends is shallowest and easiest to wade. Knowing this simple rule will enable you to wade downstream on almost any Michigan river safely, even at night.

If you need to cross and think it’s possible you might lose your footing, hook up your fly on a guide, put your hand between the line and rod handle, and wrap the line several times around your wrist. This will keep your rod with you if you have to swim to the shore. Nothing is worse than getting a little wet, but losing your favorite rod.

Wading staffs, preferably collapsible, are also a helpful tool then wading fast moving water. One tip about using a wading staff in fast water is to lean upstream against the staff. Many anglers lean against the staff on the downstream side. However, if the bottom or rocks shift, the current can easily push you over downstream. When you lean upstream and the bottom or rocks shift, the current will help keep you upright. Additionally, studded, or aluminum bar soles grip algae covered boulders, logs, and rocks that feel like greased bowling balls.  Consider using these soles when fishing rivers like the St. Maries rapids, or large western rivers that have stove-boulder or cobblestone bottoms.

Since breathable stocking foot waders offer little insulation, you’ll need to dress for the weather and layer up to be warm. The waders will keep you dry, but that’s about all. If it’s warm out, be sure to wear a lightweight nylon pant that will release any moisture so the waders can breath. Denim is not the best material to let go of moisture and will be uncomfortable inside modern waders.

When the season is finished and it’s time to put the waders away, wash them gently by hand both inside and out and dry them thoroughly. Then roll them carefully from the feet to the top and put them away in a safe, dry place.

Dave Leonhard is a master casting instructor for Fly Fishers International, a life member of TU, a charter member of the Adams Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Traverse City, Michigan, owner of Streamside Orvis in Traverse City, Michigan, and owner of the Orvis Michigan Fly Fishing School in Traverse City, Michigan.  


March 10, 2024

Fly Fishing Small Streams

by Dave Leonhard 

Busting brush into the dark and overgrown headwaters of our better-known and larger trout streams can offer lots of exciting fishing.  Hunting tiny creeks for pocket water and beaver ponds also presents a list of different problems for fly anglers to overcome. Casting to tiny spots without room for a back cast, fooling a trout at close range, or even getting to the stream without breaking the rod can offer trouble without some preparation or experience. This issue, let’s see how to deal with some of these challenges.


Choose The Right Rod

Fly casting to a trout that is holding under a bank only ten feet in front of you on a stream that is only six feet wide can be a tough shot. Add to that scenario tag alder, willow and cedar all around and you’ll have a perfect environment for trout to hold in and a nightmare to move about and to cast. A couple of things can help if you plan ahead. First, choose a rod that is suited to such a tight environment. Rods of six to seven feet are considerably easier to move in such tight spots. Also, very short rods, like small stream specialty rods, tend to be offered in lighter line weights. Many light line weight rods are designed in short lengths because they load more easily and manufacturers expect anglers to use them in tight conditions.  Remember, fishing upstream and casting only fifteen feet ahead of you with seven to ten feet of leader and tippet means that the rod must load with only about five or six feet of fly line past the tip. More flexible, slower action rods are ideal for this type of casting situation. So, if you’re looking for a rod for these conditions, make sure you try it that way at the store. A casting tool that suits you at thirty feet may be very wrong where you can’t pull more that five feet of fly line past the tip. Just make sure you can move the fly to the target.


Practice Your Roll Cast

Next, practice your roll cast. Since these overgrown environments don’t allow for much back casting, you should make sure you are proficient roll casting with minimal line in front of you. (Note: This practice must be performed on the water since contact with the water is necessary to load the rod, and prevent the fly from slipping toward you when you throw the line forward away from you.) Keep in mind these couple of important principles of roll casting: Keep the fly on the water, aim low toward your target, and apply the power late in the stroke. Applying the power too early in the cast will result in a wide loop that will pile up in front of you and will not reach your target. Also, right-handers should learn to work rolls casts across to their left. When roll-casting to their right, they must then cast across their bodies to avoid the line crossing and tangling. Practice from a crouched position too, as you will on the stream. Tight fishing requires stealth. Offering a low profile will help you sneak these fish, but the lower position can make casting more difficult. Practice.


Consider Your Fly Line

To help you load, or bend, your rod with only a few feet beyond the tip of the rod, you can add more line weight. This can be accomplished by shortening the front taper of the line, or by using one line weight more. (i.e. a four-weight line on a three-weight rod) New, specialized tapers so-called “Power Tapers” are engineered to be a half a line weight heavier or at the heavy end of the AFTMA line weight standards (i.e. the weight in grains for the front 30 feet of the line). These too will help load the rod with very little line beyond the tip. Again, since this is a very specialized application of rod, line and cast, you must practice to be sure of the performance of such a unique system. “Retro” type fiberglass rods such as Orvis’ Glass rods are slower action style rods that are perfectly suited to small streams and short casts. Last, don’t lose sight that your first consideration should be to choose the correct line weight for the fly you are fishing. Remember, a heavier line weight on your rod may help you on 15 foot casts, but it may also make 40 foot casts hard to control. However, when most of what you have on the water is only leader and tippet, line weight may not be a big factor.


Plan Your Attack

Upstream or downstream? If you’re fishing upstream to sneak up on trout facing into the current, remember to consider your float. The upstream approach is stealthy and will kick up less debris and spook fewer fish. However, keep in mind that your float will cover only the water under the leader when you fish upstream. Your entire float begins where the fly lands and ends where your leader’s butt lands. As an example, if you are using ten feet of leader and cast forty feet upstream, beyond the first ten feet of float, you will have “lined” or spooked the fish. Be conscious of where your leader and fly land. Downstream floats can be as long as you can provide a drag-free float. But, moving downstream in tight quarters will sometimes spook your quarry before you can get into a good position to make a cast.


Be Careful

Finally, carry your rod through the woods with the tip behind you. It is much more difficult to react to a tip caught in a bush in front of you and stop in time to avoid breaking it. When the tip is caught on a branch behind you and you’re slow to react, it may pull your hand or the line, but it offers a margin for error that will allow you to stop before it breaks the tip.


This year, poke around in the back woods and explore some of the smaller streams hidden away from the masses. If the fish are smaller, they are also more cooperative. But don’t be fooled. Small streams can hold big fish. Regardless, consider these factors and remember to practice.


Dave Leonhard is a master casting instructor for Fly Fishers International, a life member of TU, a charter member of the Adams Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Traverse City, Michigan, owner of Streamside Orvis in Traverse City, Michigan, and owner of the Orvis Michigan Fly Fishing School in Traverse City, Michigan. 


Tying the Predator Gurgler

Predator Gurgler

Hook:Firehole 801P #1/0

Thread:GSP 150 white

Tail:White bucktail with white saddle hackle

Body:Pearl Ice Dub in dubbing loop

Overwing:Barred chartruese saddle hackle tied flat

Head:Layered foam tied Gurgler style

This is the final installment of the 2023 Streamside Orvis fly tying class. Jack Gartside invented the Gurgler fly. The Gurgler is a floating fly that can be pulled to create a “Gurgle” sound like a bass popper. Today the Gurgler tied to attract trout, large and smallmouth bass, striped bass, pike, tarpon, snook, GT’s and many other species. In Jack's own words, "Fishing a Gurgler is one of the most thrilling ways to catch a fish. If I had only fly I could fish all the time, the Gurgler would be it. Whether it's striped bass, freshwater bass, trout, tigerfish or just about any other sportfish you can name, a properly-fished Gurgler can entice and excite even the most reluctant fish to smash it as you work the fly across the surface."


   February 23, 2023   

Tying the Hazy Cripple

Hazy Cripple

Hook:Orvis 1523 #12-14

Thread:Uni Thread purple 8/0

Tails:Brown Z-lon

Abdoman:Purple Life Flex

Wing:White Parapost

Hackle:Grizzly/Brown mix

This is the 6th week of the 2023 fly tying class. Walter Weise’s Hazy Cripple is based on Rowan Nyman’s DOA Cripple which is based loosely on Bob Quigley’s cripple. Emergers and cripples, as Weise explains, are more effective when fished for selective or heavily-pressured trout. This pattern is Weise’s offshoot of the Purple Haze, one of the most popular attractor patterns for mid-Summer trout fishing.


   February 16, 2023   

Tying the Euro Jig Sculpin

Euro Jig Sculpin

Hook:Firehole 516 #8

Thread:Uni Thread 8/0 olive

Bead:Insta Jig mottled olive 3/16

Tail:Olive or olive brown marbou

Body:Pheasant tail colored Ice Dub

Legs:Golden Yellow Pearl barred Crazy Legs

Collar:Pheasant tail colored Ice Dub

This original Tyler Sarasin pattern imitating sculpin, goby, or crayfish is a highly successful pattern for early season smallmouth, carp, and mid-season trout. It’s heavy headed bead should be jigged as it drifts downstream of across the bottom of stillwater such as the Grand Traverse Bay shoreline.


   January 26, 2023   

Tying The New Age Gartside Soft-Hackle Streamer

New-Age Gartside Soft-Hackled Streamer

Hook: Orvis 228S #4

Eyes:Black bead-chain

Thread: Uni Thread 6/0 black

Underwing: Ripple Ice Fiber copper

Hackle:Yellow and brown blood marabou

This is the second week of the 2023 Streamside Orvis fly tying class. Jack Gartside’s Soft-Hackle streamer is alive even when it’s dead drifting downstream. Jack’s use of marabou by hackling it is ingenious and extremely effective and made this pattern one of his most revolutionary. It rests alongside other of his creations like the Sparrow, Gurgler, Carrot Top, and Pheasant Hopper. This fly can be tied in a variety of colors for many common baitfish and trout species.


   January 18, 2023  

Tying the Hungarian Prince

Hungarian Prince

Hook:Orvis 1524 #10

Thread:Uni Thread 6/0 black

Tail:Brown turkey biots

Body:Peacock herl

Rib:Gold french tinsel

Wing:White turkey biots

Hackle:Hungarian partridge

This is a Blue Ribbon Flies pattern that modifies the original stonefly pattern to include a soft hackle partirdge feather. It can be fished dead drift or swung like a traditional soft hackle pattern. This a great pattern for late June or early July when black stoneflies emerge along the banks. It’s also a favorite attractor pattern where the giant black variety is found since that variety requires 3 years to mature, one and two year old black stoneflies are always available.


   January 11, 2023   

Contact Information 

Streamside Orvis
300 E Front Street, Suite 101

Traverse City, MI 49684  

(231) 933-9300  


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